At the beginning of his Wanderings: The History of the Jews, acclaimed novelist Chaim Potok proclaimed himself “an American, a Jew,” with a deliberate effort to determine the order of his loyalties.
But, as he traversed the course of our history, the sorrow, grief and intermittent triumphs, Potok’s self-appraisal transformed. As he delved into the events of our story, he underwent a journey to his soul, to a place where his identity began with concern for, and kinship with his brethren. “I am a Jew, an American,” he concluded.
It is tragedies that bring us together, and it is triumphs that keep us close. In between though, we return to our own lives, to our families and our communities. It is the circle of life, as recurrent waves upon shore.
Then three boys are kidnapped and murdered, underground terror tunnels are discovered, and a nation is shaken to its core. It huddles together for strength.
A war begins to rage in Gaza and our brave soldiers are sent to protect our freedom. Soldiers as young as eighteen; soldiers we, or someone we know, is related to. Our nation comes together in solidarity, walking the streets of New York and London with Jewish pride glinting in the sunlight. Our nation comes together in outrage at the growing hatred in the media and on the streets, at the attacks against synagogues in Paris and schoolchildren in Sydney. And finally, our nation comes together in mourning, crying softly as we watch the tears and hear the songs of the families whose sons will never return home.
In a word, our nation has come together in unity—and Chaim Potok’s muse has never commanded as much meaning. We are Jews, and Americans, Australians, South Africans, devoted to our people while not any less loyal to the countries we reside in. Recent weeks have brought us closer together, at least in cause and principle.
There is another type of unity though, one that remains even when the seas are calm. It is an essential unity, of feelings that fail expression, of words that need no interpretation, and yet, of compassion that exceeds the solidarity of any gathering and the sympathy of any article or column. It is a unity that has our prayers recited in always the same direction, and our hearts and minds with our brothers and sisters in Israel, or wherever they may be around the world.
It is our hope and prayer that the current conflict is brought to a purposeful end. Let us hope too that when this round of fighting is done, the sentiment of recent weeks will live on. Let it guide us forward as a nation, as loyal citizens, and let it breathe peace and harmony into our darkening world.